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Falun Gong followers protest violence in China

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CHINESE EMBASSY, LOS ANGELES -- More than 250 followers of Falun Gong gathered Friday night at the Chinese Embassy to protest violence against its followers. Some of them say they were prosecuted, imprisoned and tortured in China for their beliefs.

By Olga Grigoryants

“We want to be here to send a signal that Falun Gong issue should not be ignored because the prosecution has been lasting for 15 years, and it's really brutal,” said Michael Ye, a USC alumnus with a Ph.D. in economics.

The Masanjia Labor Camp (“Ideology Education School of Liaoning Province”), Masanjia, Yuhong District, Shenyang City Liaoning Province, China. Fulun Gong practitioners tortured, killed, forced to produce Christmas and Helloween decorations and other products sold in the U.S. supermarkets.

“We want to be here to send a signal that Falun Gong issue should not be ignored because the prosecution has been lasting for 15 years, and it's really brutal,” said Michael Ye, a USC alumnus with a Ph.D. in economics.

Ye said his fellow practitioners face brutal treatment from the Chinese Communist Party, including torture by electro shock, starvation and physical abuse. The most horrendous, the protesters say, is organ harvesting.

More than 3,300 practitioners have died in past 10 years due to imprisonment and abuse, according to Reuters.

The Falun Gong movement, also known as Falun Dafa, was started in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, as a practice that combined slow motion movements, breathing and meditation.

It quickly gained popularity, and by 1999 the number of followers reached a million.

The tension with the Communist Party started 25 years ago on April 25, 1999 after more than 10,000 members gathered in front of the Chinese government center in Beijing, requesting the right to practice Falun Gong without government interference.

At the next Communist Party conference, the regime declared the movement a cult and began brutally prosecuting its followers.

In 2000, Jana Li, a Falun Gong practitioner, held a banner that read “Falun Dafa is good” during a peaceful demonstration at the Beijing's main square with thousands of other followers. Later that day she was arrested.

Li spent one year at a labor camp where she worked 18-hour shifts to produce Christmas trees, flowers and toys. During this time, she was closely watched by the camp’s guards, who followed her everywhere—even to the bathroom. Each day, she had watch “educational” videos about Falun Dafa and listen to lectures that slammed the movement and its followers. This continued every day until Li had a nervous break down.

“I realized that I have no value," Li said. "That I’m nothing."

After months of negotiations with the government officials, Li's family got her out of the camp.

Lily Zhang was arrested near her house after she was going home from one of her practices. She became a follower after her mother, a Falun Dafa practitioner, was detained in a Chinese prison. Zhang said her mom who was sick for many years became healthy after following Falun Dafa and performing simple slow-moving and breathing exercises.

Zhang was imprisoned and sent to a labor camp where she spent one and a half years. She was forced to worked a 22-hour shifts and had only a small bottle of water for a day.

Zhang’s husband David Zhang became a Falun Dafa follower after meeting his wife. David worked as a businessman and spread the promotional material after work. He got arrested in one of those days when he walked on the street with a backpack filled with the flyers.

He spent a few months in a detention center and then was sent to a labor camp for two and a half years.

He was tortured by not being allowing to use a bathroom. He also wasn’t allowed to shower for two months. The tortures and everyday humiliations led David to start a hunger strike and lose 22 pounds.

Today the Zhangs sit in the first row of the events that take place in Santa Monica.

They live in Upland, Calif. with his wife Lily and their two children. They say there're safe now, but it’s their duty to protest and help unprotected follower back in China.

The Falun Dafa movement became widely known in 2011, after a woman in Oregon found a notein a Halloween decoration written by a labor camp inmate who begged for help. He asked that the recipient forward his cry for help to the World Human Right Organization.

Practitioners of Falun Dafa say the Masanjia Labor Camp in China, where the man was from, is a popular place for the containment of its followers.

Dr. Churchill, a naturopathic physician, said that the movement is under scrutiny because “anything that is spiritual, ideological or religious, [the Chinese Communist Party] tries to stomp it out like fire.”

Testimonies of the former Masanjia Labor Camp prisoners: